Sunday, 10 August 2014

Terry Taylor, author and counterculture figure

In 2010 - when Five Leaves was building a reputation for its New London Editions series - we were regularly approached by people suggesting new titles. Within a three month period three people suggested Baron's Court, All Change by Terry Taylor, a London novel first published in 1961 by the late, great MacGibbon & Kee. The book became our eighth New London Edition title, coming out in 2011 to great reviews in the TLS and elsewhere.
One of those who approached us was the author and performance artist Stewart Home. He told us that so desperate was he at one stage to have the book republished he'd photocopied 200 copies of the original and passed them around, hoping for an impact. In due course Stewart wrote the introduction to Terry's novel and spoke at our one meeting on the book, the meeting at which Terry slipped in quietly at the back, his only public appearance (if it can be called that) about Baron's Court. I wasn't at the event and never met Terry, though we had an amiable correspondence. He was very comfortable with the book but had moved on since it was first written. His life was different and he'd become, happily, a sandwich-maker in Rhyl, where he lived quietly with his "favourite gym instructor", his wife Wendy, as the dedication said in our edition. At one time an important paper - was it The Times? - was interested in interviewing him. Was he worried that his cover would be broken? No, he said, nobody in Rhyl reads The Times.
There was a personal connection between Stewart and Terry. Terry had helped out Stewart's mother when she was in difficulties, but primarily Stewart thought that Baron's Court was the best book of the British beatnik era. And it might well be.
The book documents one summer in the life of an unnamed sixteen year old narrator. He leaves his suburban home and boring job as a shop assistant for a "pad" in central London, paid for after he moves into dealing dope. Along the way he dabbles in spiritualism and has an affair with an older woman. There's a lot of dope in the book, which was also the first novel to mention LSD.
Terry was born in 1933 and was the inspiration for Colin MacInnes' Absolute Beginners. He was the assistant to the photographer Ida Kar, and her lover, despite the difference in age. Kar was the photographer of that era, that scene, and photographs of Terry are in the National Portrait Gallery. They can be seen here - As you can see, he was not averse to a bit of dope himself.
A second novel was turned down by MacGibbon & Kee as being too experimental. It has not survived. Terry, however, wrote a third novel The Run, which is still unpublished. I read the manuscript and, with some editing and rewrites, it would be worth publishing. The book explores the drug scene/drug dealing among British people in North Africa. It is racier than Esther Freud's Hideous Kinky and, of course, the parts of the story that don't quite ring true are based on real things that happened! Terry and I talked about publishing the book, making the necessary changes, but we never took the discussion to any conclusion.
Terry retained an interest in North Africa but also spent a lot of time in Goa, sending cheery emails to say he was there again.
Terry Taylor died a few days ago, after a short illness. He is survived by his favourite gym instructor and their daughters Amy and Zoe and an older daughter, Tracy, from a previous relationship.
Ross Bradshaw

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Campaign for Real Plebs

We are eagerly waiting an order for this book from Andrew Mitchell. 
The Plebs League and the Labour College Movement were at the forefront of adult education in the North East of England as previously self-educated shipyard workers and miners came together to create an adult education movement that they could control... a movement that sought to explain the political conditions in which they found themselves.
This short book celebrates the achievements of this long forgotten group of autodidacts.
The title reflects the choices faced by working class people at the time - the pit or the shipyards, then the major sources of employment in the region.
81 pages, illustrated, 9781910170076, £6.99
Available - post free - from Five Leaves Bookshop. Also in stock at Cogito (Hexham), Housmans (London) and elsewhere.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lowdham Book Festival at fifteen

Way back when the world was younger and more innocent, Jane Streeter from The Bookcase in Lowdham and Ross Bradshaw, then of Nottinghamshire County Council, met for the first time in Jane's bookshop. By the end of the meeting we'd agreed to do a dummy run event, and if that worked, we'd run a full scale book festival. It worked, and we did. Neither of us had run a book festival before, though both had organised readings and other events. We learned on the job and the festival grew - and grew and grew. In its tenth year there were sixty events, a winter themed weekend, a weekend long film festival, irregular launches and readings. We started up Lowdham Book Festival on Tour. I'll write up a fuller history sometime, but Lowdham led us in other directions too - Jane became President of the Booksellers Association, Southwell Poetry Festival developed in tandem, both of us are trustees of the East Midlands Book Award... and now Five Leaves has its own bookshop and is heavily involved in the radical bookshop revival.
In consequence - and as it should be - Jane is now the main organiser of Lowdham while I run the traditional "last Saturday", which is approaching like a train...New partnerships have been formed, such as that between the Festival and Nottingham Playhouse. We never wanted the Festival to be static, but we also wanted to keep some traditions - the last Saturday, the reading group day, the cricket night, the technician bringing out that awful yellow staff T-shirt that seemed like such a good idea fourteen years ago.
Fifteen years in literature is a long time but it still gets you. Even just hearing about Bonnie Greer at Lowdham last night (I could not attend) - one of the country's leading Black intellectuals captivating the audience in St Mary's Church in the village made me excited. And on Saturday morning, at 6.30am I'll turn up to set up the bookstalls for our book fair and be castigated, as every year, by the first arrival for my amateurish lateness but that bookseller knows that he will get exactly the spot he wants, the best one on site, as he has every year at that time in the morning. I'l looking forward to it.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Wild paddling

Spending a short break in the Lake District enabled me to engage in a little Wild Paddling, in solidarity with the Wild Swimmers who seemed all over the place. But more importantly it enabled me to visit Fred Holdsworth Bookshop in Ambleside for the first time in twenty years and Sam Read Bookseller in Grasmere for the first time ever.
Fred's shop has been going for 50+ years though Fred himself retired a few years back. I'd remembered it as being more political, more alternative and more literary than it is now, but there are reasons. At one time there were 500 teacher training students in the small town, plus staff, and their presence - and those of quite a few other alternative types drove the bookshop. Nowadays the stock is orientated more towards tourists. Still a shop worth visiting - well, I was a tourist - but it feels like the last few years have been a struggle.
Holdsworth's longevity is nothing compared to that of Sam Read, which opened in 1887. The current owner has been there fourteen years and while Grasmere had the feel of a theme park, the bookshop lifted my heart a bit as their walking book display was led by Rebecca Solnit and a cohort of other important and thoughtful walking writers. There was depth there.
But like all the outposts of bookselling, the hours are long. Both shops are open seven days a week and while the weather this week has been beautiful in the Lakes, I suspect there are long periods of rain outside and ennui at the counter.
I'd definitely visit both shops again but a visit in person is better, neither have spectacular websites.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Five Leaves' next... invitation to the book launch

Going, going, gone - title update

Update on some of our titles:
The Liberation of Celia Kahn is now out of print in paperback, though the ebook is still available for the moment. Together with its companion volume, The Credit Draper, which will also fall out of print, J. David Simons' titles are passing to another publisher. This is Saraband in Glasgow. The two titles will appear from them with the third in the loose trilogy - The Land Agent. I've read the third and it is very good indeed. I'm sorry to see the books go, but they will have a great new home with Saraband and it makes sense for the three books to be available from the one source.
Less satisfying is that two of our announced titles will not appear at all. The first is Under the Surface: mining poetry. Unfortunately the editor was unable to complete the book and it has had to be abandoned. A further title, Comrade Marilyn, ran into copyright issues and has also had to be cancelled.
It's rare that we have abandoned titles after announcing them - these might be the first - but there's nothing we can do. Perhaps sometime these titles will come back to life.